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Duke women's basketball shows defensive strengths along with the offensive downpour against UNC-Wilmington

This Duke team has displayed a knack for tough defense.
This Duke team has displayed a knack for tough defense.

This game seemed anything but defensive for the Blue Devils.

Duke seized another win Sunday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, overtaking UNC-Wilmington in an 87-45 blowout. The Blue Devils held the lead throughout the contest, not leaving any doubt about their eventual victory from the get-go. Through the help of Miela Goodchild and Vanessa de Jesus' 3-point shooting, the team racked up big numbers on the scoreboard.

The depth of head coach Kara Lawson’s bench was evident on the court this afternoon—13 players saw playing time and impacted the score in one way or another, by adding a point or rebound or by contributing on defense. Though a quick look at the scoreboard might make one assume that this team is a simple stronghold in the offensive game, an in-depth analysis shows more than that. Lawson’s new squad played tough defense, and that should be the main takeaway despite the Blue Devils tallying 87 points. 

Rebuilding is an essential term for spectators following the ‘Kara era.’ This season is the first real glimpse anyone will see of Lawson’s administration as head coach—last year’s season ended after four matches due to COVID-19 safety concerns. 

There isn’t much to compare previous years’ Blue Devil squads to this current one. Not only does the team have a new head coach, but there are also nine new players on the roster this season—including some of the most distinguished names out on the hardwood Sunday. This team may not be brand new, as some Blue Devil veterans remain—Goodchild, senior Onome Akinbode-James and graduate student Jade Williams—yet the dynamic they play with this season is fresh and fluctuating. Now is the time for resetting the stage and learning how to play with each other before difficult matches begin. Given that focus, Lawson has her players eyeing a specific game area to play unified—defense. In their match against UNC-Wilmington, that hone-in was evident.

“I thought our communication was good, I thought our pressure was good, I thought we clearly impacted them from running their offense,” Lawson said at Sunday’s post-game media conference.

Both teams entered the match coming off a win, but UNC-Wilmington is a struggling program—in their past two seasons, they have recorded a .333 win mark. Though Duke (3-0) managed to win by a large margin, this wasn’t because it was beating up on the Seahawks offensively. Instead, it was because the Blue Devils stopped the Seahawks (1-1) from capturing offensive opportunities. 

Junior guard Celeste Taylor embodies that defensive identity. While she registered some impressive offensive stats—16 points and one assist within 20 minutes of play, her best performance was on the defensive side.

“I personally think I am a defender before I’m an offensive player,” Taylor said. “I just love getting on the floor, love getting loose balls, love doing whatever I can to impact the game...whether that is getting rebounds, or getting steals, or passing to my teammates when they are wide open.”

Taylor proved her words valid this match with four defensive rebounds, one block and three steals. But she wasn’t the only Blue Devil to put on a robust defensive performance. Senior Imani Lewis and freshman Shayeann Day-Wilson also helped the team by each recording four defensive rebounds. Almost every player recorded some defensive stat this game, contributing to Duke’s lengthy amount of time with the basketball.

It’s true the Blue Devils did have an impressive offensive day, but none of that would’ve been possible without the defensive efforts they put forth on the court. Continuing to improve this dynamic will be their key to success through every game this season, all of which starts with continuing to put in work in both practice and games. 

“We just have to find a way to execute better for longer, execute better more and that’s what we’ll be seeking this week in practice,” Lawson said.


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